Whether you’re making your vacation reservations yourself or working with a travel agent, there are some important questions travelers need to ask before putting their deposit down. I want to share just a few of them with you today.
I gathered some of the most common questions our travelers ask the Friendly Planet team, and I’ve also included some of the insights our travelers often share in return.
If you’re making your own travel arrangements, ask yourself:
- Will I need a visa? This is absolutely the #1 question you should ask, whether you’re making your own reservations or working with an agent. Requirements for visas differ based on your destination and nationality, so it’s important to know what rules you’ll be subject to. The U.S. State Department website gives country-specific information on travel visas for Americans, and that’s a good place to start to see what’s needed for your trip. You can also do a quick check on our website by following this link. Visa Information for Every Country
- Will I need any special vaccinations? It’s also important to learn whether or not you’ll need any specific vaccinations before traveling abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has travel notices, clinic information, and destination-specific vaccine requirements on its website. You should also check with your physician for requirements you might need.
- When is the best time of year to travel to my destination? It is summer in the United States right now — so that means it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. And while it’s warm here, it’s the rainy season in Africa and it’s winter in Argentina. So make sure you do your research to learn about the weather in your chosen destination to know when the best time to visit is. This weather chart can be a good starting place to see what the seasons are like where you’re intending to go.
- How much connecting time do I need between my flights? I always recommend giving yourself at least two and preferably three hours between connecting flights, if you’re coming from your domestic gateway and checking in for an international flight. For domestic flights, up to two hours is sufficient. That should give you enough time to change gates, grab a meal, and allow for any short delays or other unforeseen events. A few other words of advice: Try to book both of your flights through the same airline, giving you two big advantages. The first is that the airline will be more likely to communicate about delays internally. The second is that your flights are more likely to be located in the same terminal, saving you from having to walk far with your carry-on luggage.
If you’re booking with a reservation or travel agent, ask:
- Have you traveled to my intended destination? This is one of the most important questions you can ask your travel or reservations agent. Many members of the industry travel often, both for business and pleasure, and can probably give you a few insider tips (i.e. a great dive bar to pick up lunch or a hiking trail that’s out of this world) during the course of your conversation. If the agent hasn’t been to the destination personally, there’s often someone in the same office who has, who can fill you in.
- What is not included in the price? This one is especially important whether you’re booking a group tour or a package for yourself and a friend. Make sure you know what’s included, and what supplemental fees you’ll have to plan for. For instance, packages include a hotel and a car but no breakfast, which is an expense you should know about in advance. Some group tours don’t include flights or intra-country transportation in their pricing, which can cause the cost of your vacation to spike. It’s easiest (and also usually the most cost effective) to book a tour that has these elements included, because there’s less to plan for, and you won’t be surprised by add-on fees during your vacation. Also, features that have been included typically cost less as part of a package than they would separately as extra items.
- Can I get seat assignments? Some airlines now charge for seat assignments or to select a seat in an exit row, so double check your options. Charges can range from $6-$75, depending on the airline, the time of year you’re traveling, and your final destination. Some airlines don’t allow for advance seating, particularly if you’re traveling as part of a tour group. If no pre-assigned seating is possible for your tour, get to the airport a little earlier than you had planned. Typically, one-third of the seats on a flight are available for seating at check-in. You should be able to grab that aisle seat or even a bulkhead or emergency exit, if you’re among the first to check in.
- How much money should I bring? Ask this question of your reservation or travel agent during the booking process. These professionals know that this question is important to every traveler, and they’ve done their homework and will be able to advise you. A good rule of thumb is to take $300-$500 in cash and then carry a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. If you have an ATM card that you use at home, chances are very good that you’ll be able to use the same card as you travel. Most countries have ATM machines readily available, and your own ATM card will be the best way to get more cash as you travel. Forget Travelers Checks, though. They are expensive to cash and no longer universally accepted.
What questions would you add to our list? Leave a comment below.